Jesus in Revelation
Jesus is easily the most prominent figure in Revelation, and he drives the narrative from beginning to end. John himself calls the book “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1); it is an apt title. In chapter one, Jesus appears to John as a glorified and resurrected ruler (1:12–16) who commissions John to send seven proclamations from him to seven churches (2:1–3:22) along with accounts of visions and messages related to both the present and the future (4:1–22:21). In chapter five, John hears Jesus described as “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5) and John sees him as “one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne” (5:6). The Lamb becomes the main image for Jesus in Revelation and occurs twenty-eight times throughout the book.
Several features of Jesus as Lamb deserve mention. The Lamb’s blood looses from sin, redeems human beings, produces white robes, and provides victory (Rev 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11). This makes it crystal clear that salvation in Revelation depends upon the sacrificial death of the Lamb and entrance to the New Jerusalem is reserved for those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27; cf. 20:15). Significantly, worship is rightly directed toward both God and the Lamb (5:12–13; 7:10), but nobody else. Jesus participates in the divine identity in an unparalleled way, the precise formulation of which was hashed out by later church councils.
Christmas in Revelation: A Pregnant Woman, a Dragon, and a Newborn Son
Although visions of Jesus in Revelation focus primarily on his current glory and power along with his future return, one vision brings us back briefly to that first Christmas, although with an apocalyptic flair. Revelation 12:1–6 introduces us to three characters who play important roles in the ensuing vision and throughout the book: a pregnant woman, a seven-headed dragon, and a newborn son.
Despite the claims of some, the pregnant woman is not Mary. She is rather an image of the spiritual reality of God’s people from both testaments. She is connected to Israel with a crown of twelve stars (12:1), and her spiritual identity is reflected in the celestial clothing. She is the mother of both Jesus and “those who keep the commands of God and hold firmly to the testimony about Jesus” (12:17). This feminine image for God’s people throughout history connects this vision to the subsequent description of God’s people as the Lamb’s bride (Rev 19:6–9; Rev 21:9) and the later contrast between the Lamb’s bride and the prostitute Babylon (Revelation 17–19). God’s people (both Jew and Gentile) are meant to identify with the bride and disassociate from the prostitute (18:4). In Revelation 12, God’s people are spiritually and corporately represented by the woman who is supernaturally protected by God from the attacks of the enemy while physically represented by the plural seed (“offspring”) of the woman who can be physically harmed and are vulnerable to the attacks of the dragon (12:17).
The dragon is identified as “the ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world” (12:9). The “ancient serpent” is a clear allusion back to Genesis 3:15 and the curse upon the serpent there which reads: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” This dragon is a leader of rebellious angels (12:7).
Jesus is the male child who is brought to heaven to share God’s throne (12:5). The child is identified as the Messiah by the reference to Psalm 2:9. He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Psalm 2:9 is again applied to Jesus in the vision of the second coming when the rider on the white horse defeats the beasts and their armies (19:15).
Christmas in Apocalyptic Perspective: A Dragon at the Manger
The vision in Revelation 12 is clearly related to Genesis 3:15 with the shared characters of the woman, the serpent, and the seed of the woman. The vision in Revelation 12 narrates how the singular seed, Jesus, was enthroned in heaven, and the devil was defeated and expelled from heaven. The conflict, however, would continue on earth with the serpent trying to destroy the rest of God’s people.
The vision indicates that the woman suffered intensely during the period of her pregnancy: “She was pregnant and cried out in labor and agony as she was about to give birth” (12:2). This describes the suffering of God’s people in the Old Testament and between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus.
Meanwhile, “the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she did give birth it might devour her child” (12:4). The dragon is pictured as waiting to devour the male child as soon as he was born. I have imagined but never yet seen a Christmas card informed by Revelation 12:2–4. There would perhaps be the idyllic stable with the miraculous star overhead, providing a luminescent shimmer to everything below. The shepherds and wise men would be artistically positioned around the manger with all of their attention fixed on the baby in the middle of the scene. Mary would be looking down at the baby with love and Joseph would appear protective and supportive. Finally, a seven headed red dragon would be next to the lamb and donkey, licking its seven lips with all fourteen of its greedy and murderous eyes fixed on the vulnerable child asleep in the hay. I do not think anyone has ever accused apocalyptic visions of being boring.
The dragon, of course, fails, and John’s vision moves quickly from Jesus’ birth to his ascension and enthronement. “She gave birth to a Son, a male who is going to rule all nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5). There is no space here to discuss the woman’s protection in the wilderness or the 1,260-day time period (12:6). John’s vision then shifts focus to the impact of the child’s enthronement on the heavenly realm. The dragon is defeated by Michael and his angels in the heavenly realm and cast to the earth (12:7–9). This does not mean that he changed from a spiritual being into a physical and material being, but that he was cast from a higher spiritual realm characterized by proximity to the divine throne to the lowest spiritual realm that exists parallel to the created material world. The enthronement of the son is the basis for the defeat of Satan by Michael.
A loud voice in heaven describes this casting down of Satan as the end of his ability to accuse God’s people (12:10). Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and enthronement, Satan is no longer able to bring accusations against those whom God has declared to be not guilty. This apocalyptic celebration of the defeat of Satan parallels Paul’s powerful words in Romans 8. “Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:33–34).
Revelation 12 provides a visionary narrative which begins before Jesus’ birth and extends beyond his enthronement. The visionary narrative continues in chapter thirteen as the dragon recruits a beast to carry out its war against God’s people and concludes in chapter twenty with the final defeat of the dragon. The dragon failed to destroy the child at his birth and was subsequently defeated “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11). During the current time in history, between Jesus’ enthronement and return, Jesus is active to help his people overcome the dragon and beasts. His people share in his victory and follow him wherever he leads (14:4). I hope this brief consideration of Christmas in apocalyptic perspective brings encouragement: the coming of Christ was the decisive moment in which Satan was defeated and salvation secured.